No, that is not a bighorn sheep, but Callie the Wonder Cat will have to do. The reason is that when it comes to my regular hiking near the gorge, unless the clouds are interesting or I have an intuition, I usually travel light like I did Tuesday morning and leave my camera at home. This is where an iPhone would be handy, since I’d always carry that. After you read this, you may wonder how insane it is that I don’t have one yet.
I drove out to walk—ten minutes from the house—and the trailhead parking lot was empty. Now, this is what you want: it meant I could do my four miles and never see a soul. All that sunlight, all those vistas, all that cold clean air, all that privacy and quiet. Most people never get to experience anything like this, not out in the open with a ninety-mile view. You can hear and see your thoughts and other things.
The first thing I saw this time was what looked like fresh sheep poop fifty steps from the parking lot. As if I’d ever seen any before. It couldn’t be though, could it, I thought, so close to the highway? But maybe that was right. Near the end of my outward bound leg about two miles down the trail, I stumbled into dozens of bighorn tracks, clear as anything in a stretch of half-dried mud. Around the next bend, I saw their big white butts: just below the trail, three bighorn rams were grazing in the fresh green grass at the bottom of a wide arroyo!
They were close enough that I could hear them eating. They heard me, too, of course, and turned to check me out. These were large ones, strong and fearless. After a long hard stare, they lowered their heads and returned to grazing. I stood as quietly as I could until they’d moved on out of sight behind some trees, then followed them for fifty yards until a clearing opened up. We were all together again, this time even closer—I could have bounced a rock off the nearest one’s head! Another long hard stare, and they went back to breakfast. I couldn’t believe they tolerated me so well, and this part of the encounter was a long one. Every time I made a sound by shifting my position, we did the eye-lock thing again. By then I wasn’t sorry that I didn’t have a camera. Pictures are for showing to other people later, being there is for letting it soak into your brain. I did, until I had to slip away.
They watched me go and never ran.